BP PLC appears ready to turn the page on its environmental calamity in the Gulf of Mexico with reports that the company is preparing to jettison its embattled CEO and install an American in the top position.
Robert Dudley, who is currently leading BP's Gulf Coast cleanup, is widely expected to take over from Tony Hayward, who has suffered a series of embarrassing gaffes since the Macondo well exploded off the Louisiana coast in April, killing 11 people and springing a massive oil leak.
The company's board of directors will meet Monday to review the firm's second-quarter results, which come out Tuesday, and the topic of Mr. Hayward's replacement is expected to be discussed. However, BP has stayed mum about any management changes. "Tony Hayward remains BP's chief executive, and he has the confidence of the board and senior management," a company spokesperson told The Associated Press Sunday.
But a senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the company has not yet made the decision public, told AP he was briefed on the decision to have Mr. Hayward step aside last week. Two sources close to BP's board cited Mr. Dudley as his successor, according to Bloomberg. It is unclear when a new leader will take over. Mr. Hayward may be held in place until a relief well is finished and permanently plugged.
Reports of a management shuffle come as ships move back into the Gulf to resume that task. Crews trying to plug the leaky well for good had to stop work late last week because of the threat from tropical storm Bonnie, but the effort was back on track as skies cleared Sunday.
A drill rig is expected to reconnect at around midnight to the relief tunnel that will be used to pump in mud and cement to seal the well, and drilling could resume in the next few days. At a press conference Sunday, National Incident Commander Thad Allen said BP's "static kill" operation will happen the week of Aug. 1.
The leadership shakeup caps a tumultuous three-month period since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20, rupturing a pipe that sent as much as 60,000 barrels of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico each day. BP's market value has already dropped about 40 per cent and clean up costs currently sit at just under $4-billion (U.S.), but are expected to grow much higher.
With the immediate crisis apparently under control, attention has turned to the leadership of gaffe-prone Mr. Hayward, who has drawn the ire of U.S. government officials, including President Barack Obama. Weak relations with the United States would hurt the company as 40 per cent of its assets are stateside and the current administration has placed a temporary ban on new offshore drilling.
Moreover, BP's operational safety is now under review and a new leader may be the only way to convince the public that the worst is over and things will change.
"This accident is just too big and lethal to survive as a CEO," Andrew Martyn, president and portfolio manager at Falcon Asset Management said. "So many CEOs have been forced to resign for lesser items."
Mr. Dudley, originally from Hattiesburg, Miss., seems like the natural replacement. He was up for the chief executive position in 2007 but lost to Mr. Hayward, and spent 20 years with American oil company Amoco Corp. before it merged with BP in 1998.
As a BP executive, Mr. Dudley is well known for his leadership of TNK-BP, a Russian operation. When the Russian government moved to take control of the joint venture, Mr. Dudley was forced to flee the country. He has also been on BP's board of directors for the past 18 months.
Mr. Hayward endured public scrutiny almost from the minute the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded. Initially, he said the spill was "relatively tiny" in a "very big ocean" and then later declared that he wanted his life back just as the stress from the disaster mounted. Mr. Hayward was also spotted on his yacht before the current plug stopped oil from gushing into the water.
More recently, the U.S. government expressed worry that BP isn't paying out money from the $20-billion fund it set up to help Gulf residents impaired by the spill. "I have a concern that BP is stalling claims," Kenneth Feinberg, who manages the relief fund, said Saturday. "I doubt they are stalling for money. It's not that. I just don't think they know the answers to the questions" from claimants.
And last week, BP was caught altering an image displayed prominently on its website. The photo was taken inside the company's Houston-based crisis response centre and showed people monitoring the spill on ten different screens. It was later revealed that three of the screens had fake camera images in them and were originally blank.
If Mr. Hayward stays until the leak is sealed, the new head may not take over until September or later. Mr. Hayward has accumulated £10.8-million ($17.3-million U.S.) in a pension pot that would pay about £584,000 a year in retirement on top of whatever the board agrees to on Monday, according to the Associated Press.
Mr. Hayward's successor will be judged almost entirely on how well they do repairing the company's tattered relationship with the United States. "The destiny of the stock is tied to the management of a single well now," Mr. Martyn said.
With files from AP, Bloomberg